Jane Mead, “The Geese”

The Geese (from poetryfoundation.org)
Jane Mead

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going –
and want to get there.

Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar

heart, and the landscape
becomes the landscape
of being, which becomes

the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese

are calling – while time
and the heart take measure.


“[The Geese] slicing this frozen sky:” one wonders why the subject is absent from the first line. It is not hard to conceive of white geese “slicing” a white/gray sky. Are they visible at all? It might be helpful to know that geese migrate when the ground starts to freeze. They are moving because the land is literally worthless; they “know” and “want” what they need.

The differences between the speaker and the geese are manifold, but there’s a kinship between the two. “Strange and familiar” describes their call and a type of heart. But “heart” is missing from that second stanza; the last line there reads simply “to the strange and familiar.” If it was not clear before that the speaker’s mind could be “slicing” the sky, envying those who she thinks know what they need, the redundancy of “call”/”calls” and “strange and familiar” is most emphatic. The speaker’s experience is resulting in slow discoveries: first, the heart. It is something we know of, as it is within us. Do we understand what it wants?

The birds fly away. Is our speaker frozen in the “landscape of being,” stuck with her own doubt? Not necessarily: to imagine the geese is to travel with them, in a sense. The journey of the geese turns brighter. Those silos and fields will produce once more. The true call of the geese is to remember. The imagination has its limits, though. “Nuanced and muscular” feel out of place, the geese have been personified to the point of parody. When we’re vulnerable, we don’t want to be told we will be stronger. I mean, that’s not entirely true. There are some people, like Mishima, who are insane and take any sign of vulnerability as a need to get immediately stronger.

But most of us realize that pain is something deeper. I think even the most selfish of us, who want to rant about what we’re going through all the time, implicitly recognize that other people have something to do with the process. It takes a little bit more thought, on their part, to realize that hey, everyone goes through pain, and at my worst others may be going through that much worse. There does seem to me to be a separation between the geese and the speaker, finally. She has to be left alone, they have to fly away. In a sense, time does not exist for them. They pack up and leave during the rough spots. And the heart was established independent of them. “Measure” speaks to what we do best: not freeze, but wait.


  1. It never ceases to amaze me how much meaning one can extract from poetry.

    Nuanced and muscular are so out of place here, I wonder if it was done intentionally, to jar the reader, somehow.

    One rather inane observation: I think the subject is missing from the first line because the poet expects that most readers will sub-vocalize the title along with the test of the poem.

    This observation make me almost sure she is up to something fun and clever with every single (and repeated) word.



  2. Nice poem. You do manage to extract lots of wonderful things from other people’s words.

    I like the nuanced and muscular in there. It makes the geese visual, real and not an idealized fluttering in the distant sky. Their muscularity indicates to me that they have the power to actually fulfill their needs and wants, as perhaps opposed to someone who must wait out the season to take care of, say, responsibilities.

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